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February Features: The Latest in Health News

February Features: The Latest in Health News
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From Ronald Hoffman, MD

Depressing facts about air pollution: We already know about the deleterious effects of airborne pollutants on heart health; people who live near high-density traffic or near factory emissions are at higher risk of cardiovascular events. It’s also been revealed that air pollution may increase the likelihood of dementia.

So it’s not a reach to suspect airborne pollutants may impact mood. And that’s what researchers found after reviewing records of nearly 9 million Medicare recipients. They confirmed associations between particulates, nitrous oxide, and ozone with late-life depression.

There’s robust scientific evidence demonstrating that inhaled air pollutants can cross the blood-brain barrier and trigger autoimmune and inflammatory responses.

There’s an equity issue here: Affluent Americans can afford to live in cleaner neighborhoods; The richest American men live 15 years longer than the poorest men, while the richest American women live 10 years longer than the poorest women. The gaps between the rich and the poor are growing rapidly.

In addition to better food, more exercise opportunities, less susceptibility to violence, and decreased economic stress, they enjoy greater freedom from brain-damaging environmental exposures at work and at home. It’s clear that depression is, in large part, a reflection of brain health, not just a question of the right mental outlook.

Long Covid and lifestyle: Long Covid is a debilitating condition in which sufferers experience a myriad of symptoms for months and even years after a natural infection. While we know that age and comorbidities like frailty, immune suppression, obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, lung disease, physical deconditioning, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and unhealthy diets are risk factors for hospitalization and death from Covid, there appears to be a certain randomness to acquiring Long Covid. Even young and ostensibly healthy individuals seem to come down with it.

The unpredictability of Long Covid has propelled many people who are not especially concerned about dying from Covid to opt for vaccines, boosters, masking and isolation. But a huge study (13 million people) in the prestigious science journal Nature shows that Long Covid risk falls only slightly after vaccination. The protection was estimated to be around 15%, and of uncertain durability.

On the other hand, as with Covid itself, a new study demonstrates that a healthy lifestyle confers some degree of protection against Long Covid. Those with 5 out of 6 healthy pre-infection lifestyle factors enjoyed a 49% lower risk of persistent symptoms after a Covid infection. And among those who developed Long Covid, symptoms were milder.

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